Not a Hallmark mother

My mother at 88

“Mother” is a word that conjures up — at least in the minds of purchasers of cards from Hallmark — a collective image of a full-time nurturer, always loving, supportive, interested in everything her children do and say, always patient. She never raises her voice. Memories of her home-cooked meals cause her adult children to salivate long after she’s gone. I’m sure I could add more to this description, and so could you.

According to Huffington Post blogger and co-founder of ServiceSpace, Viral Mehta, “buying into inaccurate labels can create significant dissonance between expectations and reality.” He’s right.

So today, two days before my first Mother’s Day without a mother, I’m creating my tribute, which won’t find its way onto any Hallmark card, but does show the complexity of the relationship many mothers have with their daughters.

I didn’t always find it easy to be my mother’s daughter.  She was not a Hallmark mother. Women in her generation thought and acted differently from women in mine. She demanded conformity to make sure I would be liked by others, criticized my housekeeping, because people might talk, and wanted me to become more like her in many ways. She was a terrible cook. I rebelled. I never wanted to be like her. But things change.

When my father died, my mother changed. She never criticized me again, always expressed appreciation for anything I did for her, and enjoyed spending time with me.  Not only did she stop finding fault with me, but she no longer worried about conforming to anyone else’s standards.

She made friends with everyone she met, including the school crossing guard who stood at an intersection near her home every morning and afternoon. She always rode the bus to downtown Seattle. While waiting for the bus to take her home, she bought doughnut holes at a shop in front of her bus stop.  ” I like to give these to the bus drivers,” she said.  “They need a treat.”

She liked to be at the center of attention.  She loved the latest fashions and shopped for stylish clothes well into her eighties. She laughed a lot. She never worried, and always expected that whatever situations she faced in life would turn out well.  She loved flowers well enough to pick them, uninvited, from neighbors’ gardens and take them home. She tied plastic bread sacks around her head when it rained.

Since she’s been gone, I’ve wondered how much of my mother is in me, and I’ve decided that I’m carrying around a lot of her, as well as of my dad.  She wasn’t a Hallmark mother, but as writer Anais Nin said, “We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we long for, need, love or desire, often against reality, against their benefit, and always, in the end, a disappointment, because it does not fit them.”  Fortunately, I had a chance to know my mother after I finally came to appreciate that common myths about a mom didn’t have to fit.

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About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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3 Responses to Not a Hallmark mother

  1. Sharon Howard says:

    Wonderful tribute and great photo.

  2. claudia Spencer says:

    It couldn’t be a better tribute!

  3. I had to read this entry, since I did not have a Hallmark mother either. Mothers Day is always somewhat difficult for me. My relationship with mom was complicated, and I could never quite figure out what I had done to so alienate her. My being a Democrat didn’t help but it went a lot deeper than that. Like you, I acknowledge that mom shaped a lot of who I am. She could be “hard as nails,” and there are times I invoke her stubbornness to help me push through a tough time. She was a good, capable mom when I was a child, and I thank her for that. I never went without food, clothes (she was a wonderful cook and seamstress), books, and a warm house. She and my dad had a wonderful long love affair which I wish I could have emulated. In her younger days, she was even a proto-feminist and many of her admonitions (“never put yourself in a position to be completely dependent on a man” and “never marry a man who hits you”) were incorporated into my girlish brain at a formative age.

    Unlike your mom, Ann, my father’s death left my mother increasingly bitter as she got older, she became more isolated and suspicious of others, her tongue got sharper, and there were times when I felt she could barely contain the rage she felt toward me. Sometime in my 40’s I began to be able to laugh about it. The grace for that came from my own son and daughter.

    At church last Sunday all the old personal stories came up again as the minister invoked the Hallmark version of motherhood. Thank you for putting a more nuanced truth on the table. Now I feel like I’ve really experienced Mothers Day.

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